Monday, February 25, 2013

Oscars: A Yearly Exercise in Disappointment

Every year I tell myself that I won’t care anymore, that the Oscars mean nothing and haven’t meant anything for a long time…yet every year I am sucked into an emotional response.  And, as usual, that response moves from disbelief to anger, then depressed resignation.  The Oscars are still the industry standard, and there is just no getting away from the fact that these winners, chosen by a pool of old hacks/venerated thespians who simply refuse to recognise real talent or innovation, can still be the difference between a director getting another good movie under their belt, an actor finding roles that stretch them and allow them to grow, and a film finding commercial success thanks to that golden statue on their poster.  So, yet again I find that I cannot ignore them, and I cannot discount them…despite the nominations themselves filling me with nothing but ennui, I’m still enthralled by the results.  Here is my disbelieving/angry/resigned response to the Academy Awards, 2013.

Best Picture

Argo, Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty

*Sigh*, this is a really poor showing for the Best Picture category, relatively speaking…perhaps 2012 just hasn’t produced the quality, but my more cynical side tells me that the movies rewarded are carefully chosen for very specific reasons. 

  • Argo is a ‘drama’ that seems almost made-for-TV in its simplistic take on a complicated situation, and is both here and a winner because Ben Affleck is becoming an absolute Hollywood darling, who must be nurtured and cultivated to join the old boys club one day.  And he has rewritten history to make America the good guys again – always goes down well;
  • Amour is one I have not yet seen, but I can imagine myself easily delighting in it (though ‘delighting’ is probably the wrong word to use for anything involving Haneke) – I’ll have to reserve judgement on this one;
  • Beasts was my personal favourite for pure fantastic beauty, just as I pitched here for Film Ireland, and its tale of beaten-down historical America should have twanged some old Oscars hearts;
  • Though I loved Django, as evidenced by my review, it is pure stupidity that it would be included here – it, rightly, never had a hope – the Best Picture category SHOULD contain movies that display excellence in all categories, which Django clearly doesn’t;
  • I have not seen Les Mis, and I’m pretty sure I will NEVER see Les Mis – but Hollywood loves a musical and adores a sad tale, so there  you go;
  • I missed out on Life of Pi, purely because I couldn’t drag myself to a movie who’s raison d’être is visual above all else – though I will revise this, as I actually do enjoy Ang Lee’s approach to filmmaking;
  • Lincoln was just an awful, plodding, historical biopic that, made by anyone but Spielberg and starring  anyone but Danny-Day, would have ended up on a True-Life channel at 4am in the morning – as it stands, it was just really, really boring, and even Danny’s spot-on impression of the man himself did nothing to lift it for me;
  • Silver Linings was entertaining, but not outstanding – shying away from ‘just’ telling the story of mental illness, and losing the run of itself half-way through;
  • Zero Dark Thirty was just pure crap – and I don’t say that often – but really, it was propaganda dressed up in a boring Hollywood costume that constantly screamed ‘THIS IS TENSE’ at you, without actually providing any reason to feel that way.
So, was Argo the best of a bad bunch?  Even with this mediocre showing, I’d have to say the answer is a resounding no – the Academy are rewarding Ben Affleck for being an industry stable, and toeing the line on moviemaking 1-2-3...he doesn’t challenge the status quo, he doesn’t offer innovative direction – he basically gives us the same solid filmmaking Hollywood has been churning out since year zero.  While I like Ben Affleck, and I somewhat-enjoyed Argo, to name it as the best picture of 2012 seems absolutely ludicrous to me: as a film critic, I just cannot but be horrified that Hollywood consistently rewards banality instead of innovation.

Best Director

Ang Lee – Life of Pi, Michael Haneke – Amour, David O. Russell – Silver Linings Playbook, Steven Spielberg – Lincoln, Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild

Well, here’s another contentious one – how can a movie be the Best Picture of the year, and the director not even be nominated?  It’s being called a snub on all sides, but really I think the Oscars panel are showing their true inability to solidly lock down what each category actually means.  Coupled with this is the bottom-line fact that Affleck’s direction was very lacklustre – more Bazin’s Metteur en scène than Truffaut’s Auteur.  Anyway, my quibbles on these are slightly shorter.  Life of Pi looked absolutely stunning, and considering Ang Lee’s previous movies, I can’t imagine it’s anything less than beautifully directed.  The nominations are strange though – how unlike the Oscars to give a nod to someone like Michael Haneke in the Best Director category (usually they pawn people like him off in the Best Foreign Language, and forget about them).  Tarantino’s omission might seem like another snub, while David O. Russell (despite his craziness) is no surprise, nor is Stevie Wunder-kid - what's an Oscar party without Spielberg?  Zeitlin slipping in there does what the Oscars do to me every year: give me the tantalising impression that sometimes they DO actually know what they’re talking about.  Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!

Best Actor

Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln, Bradley Cooper – Silver Linings Playbook, Hugh Jackman – Les Misérables, Joaquin Phoenix – The Master, Denzel Washington – Flight

What to say about this one…where does the line stop between really, really good acting, and simply doing an excellent impression of someone?  Danny Day did not blow me away in Lincoln – something he absolutely did in There Will Be Blood…while he undoubtedly worked very hard on the character, and gave him every nuance of Lincoln, it just wasn’t enough to feel much more than an excellent historically accurate copy.  The banality of the movie around him probably didn’t help, but I can’t help but feel that Joaquin Phoenix deserved this one far more.  While I didn’t particularly like The Master overall, it was an excellently constructed film – and it hinged on Phoenix’s out-of-control central character.  His portrayal of addiction of every kind was blistering, and tore up the screen in a way Danny Day’s measured Lincoln did not.  Denzel and Hugh are another story – I haven’t seen Les Mis, I’m sure Hugh’s good, but I can’t picture an all-singing picture being able to give the standard of acting necessary to get this gong, and I thought Flight was a pretty terrible movie with some very hammy acting milling around.  Denzel just seems to be phoning it in – a result, perhaps, of being given an Oscar for a ridiculous performance after being ignored for so many fantastic performances??  I don’t particularly like Bradley Cooper, but he was very good in Silver Linings Playbook – he stretched himself completely and gave an excellently nuanced performance…though I do think a nomination is enough of a nod for that.

Best Actress

Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook, Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty, Emmanuella Riva – Amour, Quvenzhané Wallis – Beats of the Southern Wild, Naomi Watts – The Impossible

Slight conundrum on this one.  I absolutely adore Jennifer Lawrence, and I think she is a great actor, but her role in Silver Linings Playbook was not great.  She was great, but the role was not…and the film was not.  It was all very good, and entertaining, and solid – but it wasn’t Best Picture level, and I don’t think her performance was Best Actress level either.  I’m sorry, Jennifer, but I have to say that!  She was overlooked for Winter’s Bone, in which she plays a far more complex and difficult role, and one wonders if yet again Oscar isn’t pulling ‘a Pacino on it, and rewarding her in hindsight.  They do tend to do that…  Jessica Chastain was nondescript in a boring movie, and Quvenzhané was spectacular for a child actress, but I’m fine with her not winning.  I have yet to see Amour, and I’m not hugely interested in The Impossible – so this category was a slim-pickings one for me this year.

Best Supporting Actor

Christoph Waltz – Django Unchained, Alan Arkin – Argo, Robert de Niro – Silver Linings Playbook, Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master, Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln

My posts are getting shorter as I go!  Must be because my anger is disappating, and now it is completely blown away in the face of the delightful Christoph Waltz!  He absolutely lifted Tarantino’s script above the usual shmultz that Tarantino usually delivers – a pastiche of old-style Quentin, when he was good, and ideas from the million and one other movies he’s watched and admired.  Django was entertaining, Christoph made it smart.  I don’t know why Alan Arkin in particular, but also De Niro, were nominated for such miniscule roles – the Oscars pulling ‘a Dench’ on it.  Tommy Lee seemed to be just his usual sour-faced self in Lincoln, but was passable enough.  Hoffman was excellent in The Master, but he suffers a little from the Danny-Days too – I wonder how much of him is really invested in the role, when it seems to come so easy to him.

Best Supporting Actress

Anne Hathaway – Les Misérables, Amy Adams – The Master, Sally Field – Lincoln, Helen Hunt – The Sessions, Jacki Weaver – Silver Linings Playbook

Total loss here – I thought Amy Adams and Sally Field were really ignorable in their respective roles, and Jacki Weaver was pretty good in Silver Linings.  I haven’t seen The Sessions, and I find Anne Hathaway to be a very bland actor in general.  I can’t imagine adding singing into the mix will change my mind, though I’m prepared to be wrong…this has a touch of the ‘Kidman’ about it – pretty actress uglies up, gets Oscar.  But we’ll see!  Again, this poor pool of nominees takes away from the importance of the gong for me.

Best Writing – Original Screenplay

Django Unchained – Quentin Tarantino, Amour – Michael Haneke, Flight – John Gatins, Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, Zero Dark Thirty – Mark Boal

Flight and Zero Dark Thirty for screenplay?  Good Lord!!  I loved Moonrise Kingdom, though it wasn’t his best written piece, and I’m sure Amour is pretty solid…but I don’t have much to be angry about here.  I like Django a lot, and while Tarantino indulged in his customary megalomania within the film, the story was solid and entertaining.

Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay

Argo – Chris Terrio, Beasts of the Southern Wild – Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, Life of Pi – David Magee, Lincoln – Tony Kushner, Silver Linings Playbook – David O’Russell

*Sigh*.  What makes Argo the best adapted screenplay?  It’s revisionist approach to history?  It’s lack of real excitement and drama?  I don’t understand this one.  In fact, I might have even suggested Silver Linings in this category, because it was a very coherent and well-written movie.  But since I haven’t read the source work, I can’t comment fully.  Life of Pi was a novel I would have considered un-translatable to cinema, and to make that work deserves a serious nod.  Again, I’m just angry that Argo won more than anyone else losing!

Best Foreign Language Film

Amour (Austria), Kon-Tiki (Norway), No (Chile), A Royal Affair (Denmark), War Witch (Canada)

Sadly, and to my shame, I have not seen a single movie in this category this year.  Since I  went back studying full time, my alternative movie knowledge has been given a severe kick in the nuts.

Best Animated Feature

Brave – Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, Frankenweenie – Tim Burton, ParaNorman – Sam Fell and Chris Butler, The Pirates! Band of Misfits – Peter Lord, Wreck-It Ralph – Rich Moore

Whilst I loved Wreck-It Ralph, I’m happy for Brave here.  A great tale, with the first female protagonist animation has ever seen.  What’s not to love?

Best Documentary Feature

Searching for Sugar Man – Malik Bendjelloul and Simon Chinn, 5 Broken Cameras – Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi, The Gatekeepers – Dror Moreh, Philippa Kowarsky and Estelle Fialon, How to Survive a Plague – David France and Howard Gertler, The Invisible War – Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering

Thrilled about this…thought it was a fantastic documentary, full of intrigue and mystery, and ultimately one of the most hopeful and thought-provoking musical documentaries I’ve ever seen.  Bravo!

Well, there we yearly rant is complete.  Oh Oscar, you still reel me in to your twisted world.  I’ll watch the highlights tonight, and since most of the talk seems to be about who wore what rather than who won what, I’m sure it will be delightful.  Seth MacFarlane's hosting, on the other hand, remains to be seen.  Nobody could beat Amy Poehler and Tina Fey at the Globes for me, but then again, I am slightly biased.

Here’s some Oscar reaction gifs to tide me over till then, courtesy of Buzzfeed!